Pause Before Adding Clients On Social Media

By Alicia Mitchell-Mercer
Increasingly, we’re seeing attorneys and paralegals connecting with clients on social media including LinkedIn and Facebook. When I ask why, I’m hearing that social media connections (e.g. Facebook) make the client feel like they are more than just a file. I think there’s also this belief that it’s an inconspicuous way to get your name out there and connect with their connections who may require legal services. From a marketing perspective, it may make sense to have a social media presence that includes the clients you serve, but is it a good idea?
Here are reasons to think carefully before sending or accepting a connection request:

  • Social media is informal. We should consider the type of relationship we want to maintain with clients. Can we maintain a “professional” relationship while also using informal outlets for communication?

  • Social media might have the unintended consequence of encouraging your client to communicate with you outside of regular business hours. Your client missed you before the 5 PM cut-off. That’s okay, they’ll just send you an instant message at 10:30 PM.

  • It may be difficult to set boundaries pertaining to those communications. If your light is green on Facebook and they can’t reach you at the office, they may decide to just use messenger because it’s an “emergency.” Your client’s view of “emergency” may not be the same as yours. If you don’t or can’t respond right away to their communications (they can tell when you’ve read their messages on some applications) will they feel ignored?

  • In general, communicating with your clients online may present certain ethical issues regarding attorney-client privilege.

  • You may share opinions and positions (e.g. religious or political beliefs) that may offend your client. These “shares” may alienate clients in a way you did not intend.

Additionally, your family and friends may share information to your account that may not be something you want to share with clients. Do you want your clients knowing your family business? Does your best friend post embarrassing pictures of you from weekend outings?  Or what if a sibling posts a less than dignified photo or video of you just having fun? While these harmless posts may not threaten your position at work, it may not be the professional image that you want to project.

In addition to these issues regarding professional boundaries, we should consider our affirmative obligation to advise certain litigation clients about the dangers or risks of posting on social media and how those posts may affect their case. See 2014 FEO 5.

There are no hard and fast rules to connecting with clients on social media, but if you don’t already have an existing friendship with a client, it is important and less risky to keep your professional and personal life separate. This is especially the case if litigation is ongoing. You can, however, still help your law firm develop its brand (with permission of course) by making connections through accounts specifically dedicated to a professional platform.

Alicia Mitchell-Mercer, ACP, RP, SCCP is a senior litigation paralegal and legal project manager at Brown & Associates, PLLC in Charlotte, NC and a legal project manager consultant for LexPM Consulting.

Alicia has a BS in Paralegal Studies and a MS in Project Management with an emphasis on the law and engineering economic analysis. She has spoken at paralegal conferences and conventions around the country on the topic of legal project management.

Alicia also holds ACP credential in Contracts Administration, Trial Practice, Business Organizations: Incorporated Entities, and E-Discovery from the National Association of Legal Assistants.